Saturday, 2 September 2017

A FAIR view

I remember in the relatively early days of the WWW, or at least my first experiences of it in the early-to-mid-nineties, it was considered pretty exciting when webcams came along.  I guess most web users of the time would have looked at least once to see how much coffee was in the pot of the Trojan Room Coffee Pot in the Computer Science Department at a University of Cambridge, via the webcam pointed at it.

I can't really comment on the extent to which webcams (as opposed, for example, to video cameras for video calls) are that useful or interesting, except to say that I don't think I ever regularly visit a website just to see one pointing at something elsewhere in the world.  Still, if you are interested in such things, than I notice that the under-construction Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR) in Darmstadt, Germany, has a webcam showing the progress of construction.  Perhaps an enterprising student could use the feed to show how the current status compares with the schedule.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

RIP Glen Campbell

I learned today that Glen Campbell had died.  His most famous song is probably Wichita Lineman.  I think I heard it first through this cover by REM.  It's a fine song.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Cross-country physicist

Yesterday I had an enjoyable trip to Birmingham to visit a student on a sandwich-year placement.  He is working at Cross-Country Trains, effectively doing logistics work.  As it happens, there is a single Cross-Country train service from Guildford to Birmingham per day, so I took it (though at 06:02 it's a little earlier than I needed to travel).

Once there I met the student, and we had breakfast together at a place near his office called Boston Tea Party which, I can report, does an excellent vegan cooked breakfast.  He's been getting on well and enjoying the challenges of the business world;  not just the technical work that he is doing that draws upon his analytic, problem-solving and numerical skills that he has been picking up as a physicist, but the networking, dealing with work relationships and getting involved in the structures and reporting lines that business use.  It's not an atypical placement for a physics student on our BSc programme, though it does not involve directly doing physics.  Our sandwich-year students end up going to more or less any kind of place that wants to employ graduate physicists, and that include train operating companies.

Because I ended up meeting the student as soon as I arrived in Birmingham, I was done with the meeting with him, and later his supervisor, quite early in the day.  I therefore had a wander round the city.  Parts of it have changed a lot since I first got to know Birmingham (when I was an undergraduate in Oxford and my then-girlfriend went to study in Birmingham).  The renovations are rather nice.  Particularly impressive is the new library, which is beautiful inside and out.  I went there for a couple of hours to do some work.   The picture above is taken from the balcony on the third floor of the library.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

NuPECC Long Range Plan 2017

Every few years, the Nuclear Physics European Coordination Committee (NuPECC) publishes a Long Range Plan (LRP) to try to give a unified community picture of what the broad goals are for nuclear physics research in Europe for the coming years.  The most recent one was published a couple of days ago and is available to download.  It's a pretty lengthy document (236 pages) and I can't say that I've read the whole thing yet, but the recommendations seem broadly sensible.  I don't know how much influence it will have, but at least we have a kind of official-looking document to point policy-makers at, and amongst the recommendations are support for nuclear theory, so I should be (and am) glad about that.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

More new isotopes

Since I subscribe to Michael Thoennessen's isotope newsletter from his Discovery of Isotopes Project, I learn that two papers have just been published which between them give details of observations of new isotopes of Mn (Manganese), Fe (Iron), Co (Cobalt), Cu (Copper), and Np (Neptunium).  The Neptunium isotope was created and observed in China, with all the others from a single experimental run in Japan.  

Welcome to the world, new isotopes! (though you decayed fractions of a second after you were created)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Towards the end of the Semester

My blogging rate has slowed down somewhat of late, related I think to the subject matter of the last post.  Actually, it's probably possible to use blogging as a kind of cognitive behaviour therapy in which you set a small goal to write something every day (or week or whatever) and make sure that you include it as a must-do task.  Providing you make the target, and it should be achievable, because it could just be a matter of pointing out an interesting new paper you have come across, then it should be of some positive impact on one's mental health.  I dare say, though, that authors in general would not highlight the mental health benefits of making a career of writing.

I don't have such a recent interesting paper to highlight, though I expect that if I looked at the latest edition of Physical Review C or Journal of Physics G or similar, then I'd find many interesting papers.  One thing I can report is that I just finished my marking of exam papers, it being the end of semester (though I've got plenty of coursework assignments still to mark).  That means the students in their final year are on the cusp of becoming graduates and moving on to the next stage of their lives.  I wish them all the best of luck!  I know at least a few of them will be going on to PhD study, including one to my previous employer, the University of Tennessee (pictured).


Friday, 12 May 2017

National Mental Health Awareness Week

I hadn't been aware until earlier in the week that this is National Mental Health Awareness Week.  There seem to be so many special event days/weeks/months/years that I rarely know which ones happen to be occurring.  Indeed, until I just searched, I had no idea that it is currently also National Doughnut Week as well as National Walking Month

Well, I don't have much to say about doughnuts, but I've long been aware of issues around mental health since I was diagnosed with depression as an undergraduate around 20 years ago, and having probably suffered from it for a few years prior to diagnosis.  Even when I realised that there was something wrong, I put off going to the doctor for fear of the stigma.  In the end, I went on antidepressants for a few years and had a small amount of talking therapy.  I suppose that combination must have worked to a reasonable extent as I did get over it, though when the depression was at its worst it didn't seem like I ever could or would get past it.  

More recently, problems with depression and anxiety have returned and hopefully this time I was quicker in seeking help.  Certainly I don't worry about being stigmatised for having mental health problems any more, and have no qualms about writing a public blog post about it.  This time I am on antidepressants again (different ones to last time) and have had some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy sessions.  I've even been taking physical exercise as a therapy, which is something my 20-year-old self would probably not have done.  It has proved quite helpful as one component of trying to keep good mental health.  My partner suggested I sign up for a 21-day yoga challenge that was being run by a yoga place in Guildford.  I thought "why not?" and am now one week through it.  The place is called Red Hot Yoga and their thing is that their sessions take part in a hot room.  It can be pretty gruelling, but I generally do feel positive after each session.  I could do without some of the more spiritual aspects of it, but mostly the teachers don't belabour that part too much.  To get myself through it, I just think of the Peppa Pig episode in which Daddy Pig seeks to regain his world puddle-jumping record, where he takes a kind of yogic approach.  If you cannot instantly recall most Peppa Pig episodes, then here is the scene for your enjoyment: